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Women in Science

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Video clip: Tamsin explored possible PhD options, including taking time away from her studies, before starting a PhD.

Almost did a PhD in super conductors, but it just didn't feel quite right. So actually I went and did a year masters at Cambridge again, I got a scholarship to do it, in the History in Philosophy of Science. So I spent a year doing that which was a very different type of study, and after that I almost applied to do a PhD in that actually, because I really like studying, but again I wasn't quite sure I could cope with sitting in a library and think, and sort of working in a sort of particular way that I could see that doing a PhD in that area would require.

So actually I went off out of study for a year. I went off travelling and then I worked in Berlin as an English teacher for six months and then I moved to Brussels and worked for the European Commission for three months, I think, in the end. Did some more travelling and during that year I decided I wanted to go back into science, but I didn't want to be just lab based. I'd done atmospheric chemistry in my final year as one of my option topics, doing chemistry, and I'd really liked the kind of using chemical equations and using the principles of chemistry but applying them to a much larger scale, so applying them to the planet around us. So I decided I wanted to do something drawing on that so I applied for PhDs in Environmental Sciences and Earth Sciences. Actually at Cambridge I applied to do a PhD in the Earth Sciences department in the chemistry of the oceans.

When I came to fill in the form it implied you had to put a second-choice project down, and so I flicked through the booklet, because it was a booklet in those days before the internet. A booklet of projects that I didn't recognise, loads of them because I hadn't done geology or an earth sciences undergraduate degree at all, I hadn't done any. There were lots of the topics I couldn't even kind of understand the title [laughs].

So, and then I found this one on the tropospheric chemistry of volcanic plumes, I thought, “Oh I did I did quite a bit of tropospheric chemistry in my fourth year,” so I could put that one down, I could definitely go and talk about it and it sounds really interesting. And then I went for the interviews, I met the different teams and talked to the different people about different projects, and just got really inspired by the volcanoes project. So I got back to Berlin and I had the offer, I got the offer from Cambridge and I remember sitting in a bar in East Berlin, and just saying, “Oh I've got this offer to do the ocean chemistry project, but I think I really want to do the volcanoes,” and one of my friends in Berlin just saying, “Well just write to them and ask.” And so I did, and they said, “Yes that's fine. The offers for you, so if you want to come and do the volcanos project that's absolutely fine.” So I went to, went back to Cambridge the Earth Sciences department and did my PhD on Volcanoes.